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New York City, supposedly the most progressive city in supposedly one of the most progressive states in the US, New York state.

On December 10 2018, a 23-year old woman, Jasmine Headley, awaits with her 1 year-old boy in (Bergen Street, Brooklyn) which oversees SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Administration Program). Jasmine Headleye is applying for food stamps, vouchers that can only be redeemed for purchases of food in grocery stores which accept them. In the US, if you are poor, that’s about all the assistance you get (besides Earned Income Tax Credit, which some economists applaud for the so-called amazing opportunities these provide the poor; I will not engage here into this discussion). The main advantage of food stamps for self-righteous politicians seemingly caring about the taxpayers’ hard-earned money is that food stamps are spent on food. We all know what the poor spend money on..

What Jasmine Headley does not know tough – in her defense, she is generation Z- is that a poor seeking assistance is to signal herself as a worthy, well-deserving poor of the State’s assistance. To wit, she is to patiently and silently wait for -understaffed- Office of Human Administration to process her request and then bowed to it with eternal gratitude.

Fortunately New York State has infallible ways to discern the well- deserving poor from the undeserving ones. As Jasmine Headley was sitting down on the floor for lack of chairs in the New York’s Office of Human Resources Administration (a likely trickle-down outcome of Governor Cuomo pledge not to raise taxes on businesses), cups (whose motto, as all New Yorkers see on police cars, is “courtesy, professionalism and respect”) invited her to stand up. She told them to “f…  o… ” In my world, this is a dignified response, but one that led her to Rikers Island (the Abu Graib of America in New York City) and to be separated from her son “manu militari.” The poor child spent the night with relatives and the next ones, perhaps, let say in New York City mayor Bill de Blasio or with Governor Andrew Cuomo’ s homes.

When you are an underserving poor,  your parental rights are so fragile…Check that out.

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It may seem quite parochial and unsensitive to talk about family laws and one’s problems with them when there are much more dramatic human problems making the news, such as children put in toddlers facilities when their parents are awaiting deportation somewhere else in the US. On this topic, Sonia Nazario wrote in the New York Times an excellent piece entitled “The End of Asylum” where she describes the unraveling of the US asylum system in the hands of the Trump administrationhttp://iht.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/iphone/homepage.aspx#_articlea4e1405a-0545-4abc-ab3a-95e931ee0680

Trump could care less about human rights and the example he sets in the world has given legitimacy to the policies conducted by the despots of this world, the Putins, Netanyahus, DuTertres.. All over the world, the questioning of basic democratic values and principles is so pervasive that Zeid Al-Hussein, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called upon the UN to forcefully condemn human right violations ://www.timesofisrael.com/un-rights-chief-leaves-post-with-no-regrets-rejects-anti-israel-bias-claim/.

All right. Let us not have the noise the man produces on a daily basis cover issues that are important to us nevertheless.

One issue that mattered to me these last couple of months was to stop paying child support by July 1 2018 after my youngest daugher had turned 21. I did not trust one bit New York State Child Support Collection to stop garnishing my wage after this date. I was wrong. To my surprise, the garnishment of my wage ended on July 1st.

Had I known that, I could have saved myself the fee I paid a lawyer to represent me in family court..and one more year of child support payments until the end of June 2019. On May of this year, I filed a court order to terminate child support. On June 19, in Manhattan family court, my lawyer informed me that there was a major bug in my divorce agreement: unless the girls were emancipated, child support obligations were said to run until the girls were 22! I was so eager to get over my divorce that I signed this, and many other dumb clauses.

According to my lawyer, this is a standard business- of -usual clause that attorneys typically add to divorce agreements in New York State. One has to love lawyers. In New York State, which demands that non-custodial parents (fathers) pay child support until children are twenty-one, lawyers add to the aggravation by requiring one more year of child support from them. Reason: children are in college until they are twenty-two and cannot earn an income, therefore they need financial support. It does not cross these brillant legal minds that paying for a child education and all that comes with it is to be agreed between a parent and a child, and not to be conceived as an obligation to parents no matter what.

In any case, while in court, my lawyer had to inform ex, which had forgotten all about it, of the child-support-until- 22 clause. I tried to plead with her that since the girls did not want to see me, they would not mind either freeing me of child support bondage altogether, or adjust it to 17 percent of my gross income (support for one child) instead of 25 percent. Ex’ reply: Nope. I am paying alone for the girls’ college tuition, you are responsible for child support until our youngest one is 22. Just a minor detail: ex adamantly refused to even tell me the girls’ plans for college, arguing that she would encroach on their privacy, for she knew that involving me meant I would discuss these plans with them. And for ex, the idea of any contact between me and the girls is intolerable.

The morale of all this: carefully check out your divorce agreement to limit bullying.

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Since November 8, I cannot watch the news anymore and hear about the ludicrous tweets of the man with a toupee. I now confine myself to the paper and the radio.

This morning on the Brian Lehrer show, I listened to the 30 minutes weekly interview with the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. A caller asked the mayor about hiring more people at A.C.S (Administration for Children’s Services), which is under attack after Zymere Perkins’ death. The mayor was rather evasive.

I have not followed the tragic case of  Zymere Perkins’ case closely, but the question to the mayor let me wonder about ACS and its critical role between families and the justice system. On the one hand, ACS is all that children coming from  low income families like Zymere Perkins’ have; on the other hand, A.C.S. handles cases like mine (and this of more well-off folks like Anthony Wiener) and its  conclusions about child abuse don’t matter much, because the plaintiff carry on in court. I stick to what I said about A.C.S. 8 years ago: time to take them seriously and  staff them properly.

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If you walk the streets of Skala, the main town of Patmos, the Holy Island of Greece where I was a few days ago, you will likely bump into these signs that feature a man  -yes, a man – holding the hand of a little girl. These signs are there to tell motorists to slow down.

I am no specialist of Greek culture but these signs tell an interesting story: Greek fathers have a role to play in the life of their children, protect them, and have to be protected as caretakers. I bet Greek family courts are smarter than New York State’s and, as they handle divorces, do not limit fathers’ obligations to their children to paying child support.Sign1Greece

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I just came across a distressing CNN report about fathers trapped in debt for non-payment naplesnews.comof child support. At first, it sounds there is nothing new here that we have not covered in this blog. In New York State, if you can afford a divorce in Supreme Court, you buy your way into sharing the life of your children. If however you have the bad  fortune of being poor, you have to end up in family court. There, being a father entails one and only one duty: paying child support. Having a role in the life of your children is just an option , which depends on the good grace of the judge, your ex or both.

The  CNN Vega’s piece mentions a new aberration in New York State family justice. Some fathers, who for whatever reasons- unemployment or low wages (family court judges don’t seem to be aware of the stagnation of real median wages over the last two decades) cannot meet child support obligations, and end up behind bars. We are not talking about the relatively mild detention conditions of a county jail here. Fathers are graciously housed in Rikers Island. They obviously don’t make a dime while incarcerated and their child support debt keep mounting, which dramatically increases their chance to never being able to expunge it and to return to prison after they are set free. President Obama tried to stop this absurdity  in 2010 by passing a federal law that would reclassify incarceration as involuntary unemployment -instead of voluntary- and stop child support debt from accruing.

Hillary Clinton, who as a Senator of New York has never left a finger to reform the aberrant family laws of the State, is now attacking discrimination against men in child custody as unconstitutional. Dear Hillary, it took you a while. But fathers all over the country are waiting for some real meat,not just words.

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SooshThe captions of these illustrations are is in Spanish, but there is no need for translation.


Hat Tip: Ari Divina

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IxcanulSaturday February 27,  I saw one of the most beautiful and poignant movies ever, Ixcanul, from Jayro Bustamante. It was not be mentioned in the ceremony of the Oscars on Sunday, but it received a well-deserved best first film award at Cinema Tropical award.

But I want to talk about immigration and the tragedies that often go with it, not cinema. The movie tells the story of Maria, a young girl who lives with her family in the vicinity of the volcano Pacaya, in the south of Guatemala. They are landless peasant workers working in a coffee plantation. Maria’s future is all set: She is to marry the overseer of the plantation and this alliance allows her family to keep their house and to remain on the land where they live. However Maria happened to be enamoured with a young fellow who wants to go to the US, and does not know much it besides it lies behind Ixcanul (which means volcano in one of the Mayan languages of Guatemala, Kaqchikel). Maria sleeps with him to get him to bring her with him on his trip, but the lad leaves the country without her. She becomes pregnant. The condition for her family not to be kicked out is to start sowing corn their land infested with snakes. One of them bites her, and she is rushed to Guatemala City hospital. There, doctors spare her life, but not her baby’s, who is dead, Maria is told by a Kaqchikel-Spanish  hospital translator. In fact, the paternalistic greedy administration of the hospital, with the help of Maria’s cuckold fiancé, have given her baby for adoption; That’s good money, and indigenous babies are better off given for adoption to white rich folks anyway than taken care off by their illiterate kins.

Now, let us imagine for one second a totally different story for Maria. Instead of being stuck in Guatemala, she makes it to the promised land, which a real estate mogul, who epitomizes bad taste in each of his numerous architectural endeavors, wants to protect from immigrants with a wall. Let us be generous with Maria. She finds a half-decent coyote, crosses Mexico and makes it safe to the US. Then, she starts working for a chicken factory at less than the minimum wage, with unbearable working conditions. Maria is lucky tough.  The “Migra” never raids the factory where she works. Hence, unlike her compatriot Encarnación Bail Romero for instance, she does not go to jail, and does not have her kid given for adoption by a rogue judge to well-to do American parents. Instead, she keeps on working, contributes to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and never gets a cent from any of these programs. Maria’s daughter may or may not graduate from High School; she will however go to College if State policy allows it, and remains in any case, a second -class citizen. As far as Maria is concerned, she, as an illegal immigrant, will never see her parents again. Even if she were to go  back to Guatemala to be near a dying parent, she would indeed bound to start at square one, crossing borders illegally at her risk and perils.

The point is that there is no need of a wall to make the situation of immigrants more miserable than it already is.  Distrust those who want to make America great again, and those who say that America has always been great. Both messages are old bull, and their messengers always have it wrong about immigrants: Immigrants are always loosing big. Their offspring and politicians make a point to embellish it.

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